I wrote this in Bangkok airport as we were about to begin our voyage back to London, to dampen the misery of ending our trip. There are still a couple of entries to make – for central Vietnam, northern Thailand and Bangkok – but alas, I’ll be writing them from England…
So here, in no particular order, are a few things that make ending a six-month jaunt around Asia slightly more endurable.
1 – Sunshine
It might sound contradictory to miss Britain for the sunshine, having spent six months in south-east Asia during its summer months. But it’s a different kind of sunshine – the kind you can stand in for more than 10 minutes and feel it on your skin without peeling like a snake. The kind that makes you want to absorb it, not hide in the shadows.
Make no mistake, Siem Reap is a tourist town. Everything here is geared towards tourists, or towards the infrastructure that the industry necessitates. Only here it is on an unprecedented scale. It feels as big as Phnom Penh as you drive towards its centre, with enormous resort hotels on the outskirts giving way to the bustle of dusty roads and boutique guesthouses further in.
That being said, they’ve done a decent job of it. The restaurants are excellent and varied, the massage parlours are professional, and the bustling night market is colourful and exciting. The night life isn’t too bad either. Continue reading Angkor blimey!→
Bats! Bamboo! Booze! Yes, Battambang is bursting with balliteration. Pronounced bat-tam-bong, the beautiful town rests in the north-west of Bambodia, and is totally bace.
But first impressions are bad. When you pull into Battambang bus station, inconveniently built a few kilometres out of town, tuk-tuk drivers place their laminated adverts up against your window and then mob you as you disembark. Continue reading Ya-Ya, we’ve been to Battambang→
We had chosen to explore the south coast of Cambodia for one primary reason – to find bioluminescent algae, or plankton, in the ocean. We’d found none in Sihanoukville, while Kampot had its own variety of glow-in-the-dark wildlife, so Rabbit Island, off the coast of Kep, was our last chance.
Only 30 minutes down the road from Kampot, Kep sits on the Cambodian coast close to the Vietnam border. We’d booked a bus, but found the agency had overbooked the mini-van by about 10 people, most of whom were on their way to Ho Chi Minh City. Continue reading A feather in Cambodia’s Kep→
After celebrating our engagement with a bottle of Sailor Jerries, we woke early to catch our bus to Kampot. It wasn’t my favourite journey, I have to say. We hadn’t had time for breakfast, save a couple of tiny bananas, and the heat and hangover conspired to send my body into some God-awful blood-sugar crash.
Thankfully the bus driver was happy to stop while I breathed deeply on the roadside and tried to de-clamp my hands. Swarana shoved bananas in me and one of the passengers swapped his seat with mine so I could sit in the front. Lovely chap – as Cambodians generally are. Continue reading Kampot of gold→
When you finally breach the sprawling limits of Phnom Penh, the shape of the country becomes apparent: it’s flat, as far as the eye can see.
To me, it’s a strange and oddly compelling sight, to see unbroken steppe fade to transparency. The absence of obstruction – hills, forests, buildings – is fascinating to me, I suppose because I’m used to rolling landscapes and obscured horizons. Continue reading We snook a look at Sihanoukville→
The transition from Singapore to Cambodia’s sprawling capital city Phnom Penh feels a bit like Marty McFly travelling from the pristine future to a Biff-ravaged alternate 1985. There’s not as much on fire, and no one calls anyone a “butthead”, but the relative comparison is sound.
First thing’s first – transport form the airport. March straight past the taxis, with their air-con and English-speaking drivers, and head for the marginally cheaper tuk-tuks beyond – you’re a backpacker now, remember? You don’t get taxis. Continue reading Putting Phnom Penh to paper→